Paul Henry on wine, being woke, food, lockdown binge-watching and Rebuilding Paradise

Daniel Rutledge interviews Paul Henry.
Photo credit: MediaWorks

Paul Henry is one of the most recognisable and controversial broadcasters in modern New Zealand history.

After disappearing from our screens and airwaves for a few years on what fans feared may have been an early retirement, he's back with Rebuilding Paradise.

It premieres on Three on Monday night and will focus on Paul exploring the possibilities Aotearoa has in front of it as we come out of lockdown.

Like every good Kiwi, Paul's been stuck at home for the last few weeks obeying the COVID-19 alert level 4 rules.

In that time, what's he been drinking, eating, watching, reading and doing?

I chatted with Paul ahead of the show's premiere to find out - and to get to him to address the idea he's gone all woke now.

Newshub: First thing's first - let's talk wine. You're famously a big wine fan, so which tipples have you been enjoying most during the lockdown?

Paul Henry: Probably the thing I've most taken advantage of during lockdown is trying new wines. When you love wine, you tend to gravitate towards the ones you know you love because you fear wasting money.

But the lockdown has made me feel easier about trying out new wines. I've always known about the big South Australian reds that are lovely and I've had a few favourites, but I've been sampling a lot of different ones over the last few weeks.

I've moved a little bit away from the pinot noirs - that is still my favourite type of wine, but it's less tolerant and more risky. You can get an expensive pinot and it can just be awful.


A bad shiraz is better than a bad pinot, right?

Exactly. Shiraz is a good example, or cabernet sauvignon. A really full one of those from the Barossa, even when it's a bad one, it's going to be entirely drinkable. The same can't be said of other wines, particularly pinot noir.

It's hard to remember all the good ones, but as an example the one I had last night was wonderful. It was a marvellous find and wasn't very expensive, I think it was $18. It's a 2019 shiraz called Dark Corner and it's just beautiful.

Of course, one mustn't let their drinking get out of control and it's dangerous when you're stuck at home all the time. How have you managed to keep that in check?

I spent a lot of the last two years on my boat, which is a form of lockdown, particularly when you're doing great distances. So I have a big wine cellar onboard and it made for good training for lockdown.

I try and always have two days a week where I don't drink at all. Experts suggest that two days a week is good and it's very good if they can be consecutive days.

I've also set myself as sort of a psychological threshold of one bottle per day, as well as the two days a week of no drinking. But it's actually not one whole bottle per day - I will drink a half a bottle of yesterday's and then open a bottle. So there's always half a bottle from the day before waiting for me.

It's funny that you started talking about wine first as that has been probably the single most interesting thing about my lockdown.

Netflix's Tiger King.
Tiger King has been an international smash hit during the pandemic. Photo credit: Netflix

A lot of Kiwis have been getting into binge-watching shows and watching old favourite movies on streaming services recently. What have you been watching?

I have a type of obsessive compulsion which means I desperately dislike unfinished business. So if I start a book, I have to read every single word before I start another book, even including the index.

I'm the same with TV shows. If I watch half of the first episode and it doesn't grip me, I'm out; but as soon as I've watched the full first episode I've got to watch the whole series. As a result I'm a big watcher of movies - if I get 10 minutes into a film and it's shit, I can stop it. But if I get further than that, I've got to watch the whole thing, but at least then it's only one movie.

During lockdown, Tiger King has been perfect because it was just seven episodes and a very easy watch.

The other one I got into was Ozark and one thing that really pisses me off is when you can clearly tell that there is another season coming. You know, you've finished everything that's available to watch, all three seasons - why couldn't they just kill everyone?

For me to watch three seasons of anything is extraordinary but I binge-watched Ozark and really enjoyed it, however it's clear there's another season in the works. Damn it!

You mentioned reading there, what sort of books have you enjoyed recently?

I read the Tom Hanks book Uncommon Type, it's a book of short stories that someone recommended to me and it was an interesting one. All of the short stories have something to do with a typewriter and some of them are terrible, but there's a couple that are very good.

I read the crazy story of Bill Murray's life and wow, he is just so weird. I saw a lot of myself in that one, actually.

Paul Henry recommended books: Love as Always, Mum xxx and Uncommon Type.
Photo credit: Seven Dials / Knopf Canada

I read the Sally Field book - dear God that was awful. It's huge and she just moans from breakfast to dinner, so toward the end of it I actually developed a sound dislike of Sally Field, but of course I had to read every single word in it.

But here's my recommendation: Love as Always, Mum xxx. It's written by Mae West about her parents who were husband and wife serial killers in England. Fred and Rose West were actually considered the most evil people in Britain. It's just an absolutely gripping read. It's extraordinarily gruesome, but God it's a good book.

Have you found yourself cooking more?

No, I don't cook. I specifically don't cook. I used to do toasted cheese sandwiches, but proper sandwiches not just a bit of cheese on the top of the piece of bread. Not anymore.


Fair enough - but you must be missing restaurants, right?

Oh, so much!

What dish are you most often fantasising about dining on after lockdown?

That's such a good question and the answer is so, so easy: poutine at the Fed Deli. That's the number one dish I'm missing. The number two dish I'm missing is poutine at the Fed Deli and I think you can guess what my number three is! I'm just craving it. Partly I'm craving being there eating it, you know. But when I think about food when I'm hungry, that's what I'm thinking about.

Poutine from the Fed Deli, the food Paul Henry is craving.
Poutine - tastes better than it looks! Photo credit: Creative Commons

Have you discovered anything fascinating about yourself during lockdown?

I went to the supermarket and as I was waiting to get in, I found myself standing in a queue between what turned out to be a surgeon and a pilot. We were standing there patiently and I realised the shelf stacker was a more essential worker than any of us.

I just thought that was so interesting. We consider ourselves to be essential, but none of us were essential and our only opportunity in life at that time was to stand 2m apart in the car park of the supermarket, where the essential workers are the shelf stackers.

That then extrapolates out further to the likes of the Kardashians and all these other people. You might say entertainment being beamed into our homes has never been as important, but people like the Kardashians have also never been as irrelevant as they are right now.

"What the hell has happened to Paul Henry?" asked the Spinoff last week, adding that you're "basically woke now". The word 'woke' has become fairly meaningless and is generally misused, but do you consider yourself woke?

Well, I would never have considered myself to be 'woke'. But the presumption there is that it's not enough to be a broad-minded, reasonably intelligent person. Does it mean that every broad-minded, reasonably intelligent person is actually woke? That would destroy the point of having a word like that.

The mere fact that I'm saying the environment is the biggest winner out of the pandemic - some people would see that as the sort of thing that a 'woke' person would say. And what I was just saying about the shelf stackers, people might read that and draw the conclusion that I've somehow changed.

But when you think about it, it's just the way the world is. It is a new order and maybe when we come out of this, we won't leave some of that learning behind. Oh God - it does sound like I'm woke. Shit, maybe I am.

Paul Henry on wine, wokeness, food, lockdown binge-watching and Rebuilding Paradise.
Photo credit: MediaWorks

When you say people might think you've somehow changed, have you actually?

I think people always had an unreasonable... see, the thing is, people love to have their preconceived prejudices reinforced. To a degree, a lot of people would watch me and listen to me to have their preconceived prejudices of me reinforced.

So they would have heard some little snippets being promoted and they will be listening to hear me say something that fits into this category they've already put me in. But in reality, I'm very broad of vision and of experience and of emotion. I'm not a rabid right-winger as most people seem to imagine.

I am a right-winger, there's no question about that and I'm proud of it. But I'm not rabid. Unless you're a freaky extremist, everybody essentially wants the same kind of world. Left and right-wingers just have a different philosophy on how to achieve it.

Right-wingers, capitalists don't want to be stepping over poor people on the street that are homeless. You just don't want that. You don't want there to be homeless people. You don't want people waiting on queues to get operations because they can't afford them. No one wants a world like that, unless you're in some rabid extremist group.

Obviously this is an unprecedented, tough time for New Zealand and indeed for the whole world. But there is an air of positivity you're carrying into Rebuilding Paradise, which obviously also has an optimistic title. What excites you most about the rebuild?

The possibilities. COVID-19 has forced us onto a platform on which we can explore possibilities and if we don't explore them and miss this opportunity, I think we'll be betraying future generations.

So many people are focussing so heavily on what they know and asking how we bounce back from this. My argument and what I want my programme to explore is how do we bounce forward from this.

We have to be respectful of the fact that this is a disaster, a crisis - it's an economic crisis like we've never known before and perhaps an economic crisis in the developed world greater than there has ever been in its history.

But because we're in this crisis now, we have the opportunity to address it. We owe it to ourselves and more importantly to future generations to really explore the possibilities to tweak or even dramatically change our economy and society.

Have we ended up as a country sending too much raw material offshore? Should we instead look to be the world leader in more finished products that we send offshore? For example, should we really be shipping off so much radiata pine - should we instead be exporting pencils? These are things we really have to think about, I think, and we've been forced into a corner where we now have to.

Maybe this comes back to my appreciation of the shelf stacker. Maybe that will manifest in an interesting way. Let's find out.


Rebuilding Paradise with Paul Henry premieres on Three and ThreeNow on April 20 at 9:30pm.